1 in 5 people have learning and thinking differences, like ADHD and dyslexia. Chances are someone you know has this kind of “invisible” disability.
Kids who learn and think differently are just as smart as their classmates. But many are misunderstood. They don’t get the help they need. People tell them to “just try harder.” But that’s like telling someone who needs glasses to just squint harder.
Without support, they’re more likely to drop out of school and be out of work as adults. But with the right support, they can thrive in school and in life.
The Game Design Prompt:
How would you help players see what it feels like to learn and think differently? Or how would you design a game that is fun and playable by everyone — no matter how well they can do things like pay attention, read, write, and work with numbers?
Help shape the world for all kinds of thinkers. Make a game that raises awareness about learning and thinking differences.
1 in 5 kids have learning and thinking differences, like ADHD and dyslexia.
They are as smart as their classmates, but their struggles are often overlooked or misunderstood.
1 in 3 students who receive special education for learning and thinking differences have to repeat a grade.
They are 3X as likely to drop out of high school.
They are 2X as likely to be jobless as adults.
With the right support, people who learn and think differently can achieve great things. Some have become astronauts, tech titans, and Nobel winners.
Learning and thinking differences are lifelong challenges that impact skills like reading, writing, math, and focus. They’re caused by brain differences. But this doesn’t mean people aren’t smart. It just means different brains can process information in different ways.
Some learning and thinking differences are learning disabilities, like dyslexia. Others are difficulties with important skills, like planning and organization.
1 in 5 people learn and think differently. These differences can make school and work hard. But there are many supports that can help the 1 in 5 thrive.
ADHD is a common condition that makes it hard to focus, keep still, and think before acting.
Some people with ADHD mainly have trouble with focus. (This is also known as ADD.) ADHD can also impact other skills, including managing emotions.
Dyslexia is a learning disability in reading. People with dyslexia have trouble reading at a good pace and without mistakes.
Dyslexia can affect other skills, including:
Dyscalculia is a learning disability in math. It makes it hard to do math problems and understand key concepts like bigger vs. smaller.
Some people overlook dyscalculia as just being “bad at math.” But it’s a real challenge that’s based in biology, just like dyslexia is.
Executive function is an important set of mental skills. These include:
Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, and get things done.
Language disorders make it hard to use and understand spoken language. They aren’t problems with speech or hearing.
There are three kinds of language disorder.
Mixed expressive receptive language disorder: Trouble with both using and understanding language.
Explore these resources:
A day in the life of a kindergartner with receptive language disorder:
Sensory processing issues make it hard to organize and respond to information that comes in through the senses.
Many things can trigger a feeling of “sensory overload.” A few examples:
Explore these resources:
Articles on how to cope with:
Written expression disorder is a learning disability in writing. People who have it struggle to put their ideas into writing.
With this disorder, you might have great ideas, but it’s hard to organize them. Grammar and punctuation rules can also be a big challenge.
Experience what it feels like to learn and think differently.
Estimated time for this activity: 15–20 minutes
Help students experience what it feels like to be a gamer who learns and thinks differently.
Estimated time for this activity: 60+ minutes
Students who learn and think differently often experience a lot of frustration. And this frustration can take the form of challenging behavior. This is true whether kids are doing schoolwork or playing a game.
Choose one of these Understood resources that help show the importance of empathy in trying to understand what’s driving the behavior of students who learn and think differently.
An accommodation changes how students access and learn the same material as their peers. Most students who learn and think differently spend most of the school day in the general education classroom. Some students may need accommodations in just one or two classes. Others might need them in all classes.
Choose one of these Understood resources to see examples of classroom accommodations for different kinds of challenges.
Learn from the experiences of Understood’s Teacher Fellows:
The Student Resources section higher up on this page includes fact sheets and other handouts. In addition to those resources, you and your students may want to explore:
Sentence starters to speak with empathy
Teachers and students can use this one-pager to build a classroom community where all students feel safe and are able to thrive. Keep in mind that there is no one right empathetic thing to say. Often, it’s less about what you say and more about how you listen and ask for information.
Self-awareness means understanding your strengths and challenges. Kids who are self-aware know what helps them thrive. Use this self-awareness worksheet to help kids build this important skill.
STEM stars who learn and think differently
Many kids who struggled in school have grown up to be leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Print these four mini-posters that include:
Meet Brooke, an Understood staffer who loves video games. Auditory processing can be a big challenge for her. She has some memory issues too. But she has found gaming tools that help her thrive.
Cognitive accessibility in gaming 101
Games accessibility specialist Stacey Jenkins gives a seven-minute overview of different types of cognitive challenges and gaming tools that can help, such as:
Improving games for players with cognitive disabilities
Game Maker’s Toolkit created this nine-minute tutorial. It covers some of the same territory as Stacey Jenkins’ video, but it provides different tool examples, such as: